The historic English cities of Oxford and Cambridge create an intimidating backdrop for the insertion of contemporary architecture. Herzog and de Meuron’s new Blavatnik School of Government rises to the challenge with confident geometry and elegant detailing.
Herzog & de Meuron
By Jakob Harry Hybel
Much in the same way as Rem Koolhaas has become synonomous with modern Dutch architecture, Herzog & de Meuron represents something uniquely, distinctly Swiss. The works of the Basel-based practice express conceptual precision, formal clarity and immaculate detailing and craftsmanship. What truly distinguishes them, however, is their commitment to challenging the Modernist ornament-aversion.
The two founding partners Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron have had almost entirely parallel careers. Born in Basel in 1950, they both went on to study architecture at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH). They received their degree in 1975 - along with Aldo Rossi - and established their joint practice in Basel in 1978.
Herzog & de Meuron - which captured the public's eye in 2000 with their first large-scale project, the Tate Modern in London - has designed a wide range of projects from the small scale of private homes to the large scale of urban design. While many of their projects are public facilities, they have also completed several notable private projects such as apartment buildings, offices and factories.
Their formal language have evolved somewhat from the rectangular simplicity of their early works to the more complex and dynamic geometries of the VitraHaus or the Beijing National Stadium, also referred to as The Bird's Nest - the latter being one of three realized projects on which Herzog & de Meuron has collaborated with prolific Chinese artist Ai Weiwei).
However, a highly refined juxtaposition and articulation of different materialities is a common thread that runs through all their projects, as is the often remarkable choice of building skins, such as woven copper strips or photographically printed polycarbonate panels.
The individual contributions of each of the two founding partners are inseparable, which was acknowledged by the Pritzker Prize Committee, who made them both laureates in 2001 - something that had previously only happened once (Oscar Niemeyer and Gordon Bunshaft in 1988).
For many years, Jacques Herzog and Pierre
de Meuron were reluctant to decentralize
their firm, as they felt they needed hands-on involvement in
all their projects. Today, however,
with Herzog & de Meuron engaged
in projects across Europe, North and
South America and Asia, the partnership has grown from two
to five partners (the others being Christine Binswanger,
Ascan Mergenthaler and Stefan Marbach). And while
its head office remains in Basel, the practice now
have branch offices in Hamburg, London,
Madrid and New York.
Visit Herzog & de Meuron's website.
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